Subject Matter Experts for Maintenance Technicians, Managers and Engineers

Summary: Starting the Shutdown Planning Process

  1. Recruit your team as soon as you start initiating shutdown planning
  2. Reach out to stakeholders and gather their requirements
  3. Collate and organize requirements into the master and sub-projects
  4. Make your initial estimates of time and cost resources
  5. Write Shutdown Project Overview Statement (Memo)
  6. Schedule a planning meeting to get approval

This is the second post in a series on Shutdown Planning. If you missed the first post, you can read it here. When initiating shutdown planning, you might do things in a different order but the following few steps are the main ones you need to worry about. Most of these steps in the shutdown planning process are aimed at gathering raw data to produce the Overview Project Statement. The approved Overview Project Statement provides the go-ahead to begin your formal planning. That raw data is also the basis of your ultimate shutdown project plan.

Step 1: Recruit Your Initiating Shutdown Planning Team

If you’re a supervisor or manager, you already have a team of people who will be doing the hands-on service. It can be helpful to recruit at least one other person on your team, early in the game, to help you with the early planning tasks. Stuff happens and sometimes you won’t be available to meet with stakeholders or to develop parts of the plan by yourself. If you are in a really small group, then you’ll have to do it yourself. Don’t worry. I’ll give you some documents, templates and resources to get you started and maybe make things a little easier.

Whether or not you have somebody to help with the planning, make sure you get your maintenance crew ready for the shutdown. Communicating with your team is really important. Also, pay attention to their individual stress levels. Everybody responds differently to stress. The anticipation of a big project can be really stressful for some people. Don’t just brush that anxiety under the table. If you ignore it, you may be sorry when the day comes to start the shutdown.

Step 2: Gather Stakeholder Requirements while Initiating Shutdown Planning

The fact is, your engineering organization will probably generate 80% of the requirements for your shutdown. Other departments, including your own, will contribute a few “must have” or “wish list” items, but engineering will often drive the bulk of non-scheduled maintenance tasks you’ll have to do. If you have a different experience, please let me know in the comments section. But, in my experience, engineering is one of the main drivers of maintenance shutdown requirements.

Requirements Gathering Document for Shutdown Planning

Reach out early

Don’t wait until they contact you. Physically meet with the managers and engineers who are in charge, during the early phase of initiating shutdown planning. It’s likely that they are already keeping lists of tasks that they can give you. You can get together with them in person, over the phone, by email, Skype, or in any other way you can communicate. Also, mention that you are in shutdown planning mode in the various meetings, such as staff and engineering meetings, that you may already be routinely involved in.

Meet with individuals first

My experience is that big, formal meetings are the most ineffective way to gather requirements. You may not be able to avoid them, but you’ll probably find yourself enduring hours of long-winded pontificating and worrying about rare situations, instead of getting your work done. I suggest the direct approach. It might seem like it’ll take longer, but really, it doesn’t. And, getting to know people in your different stakeholder departments will help you solve other issues if they come up during the shutdown itself. Remember, you’re not even planning yet. You are just initiating shutdown planning.

Step 3: Organize Requirements into Master and Sub-Projects

As pointed out earlier in this article, even initiating shutdown planning typically involves several departments and functional areas. All the requirements you gather need to be organized into sub-projects. It would be very surprising if your first list of requirements was detailed enough.

Requirements Document for Initiating Shutdown Planning

To start with, you’ll have a loose collection of “must haves” and “wish lists.” Once you have organized these sub-projects into logical steps, it is time to put them together within a Master Project structure. This, by the way, is part of the early process of separating the “must haves” and “wishes”, so expect this list to change as the process evolves. You can put them pretty much in any order at the start, because sequencing and scheduling will not be a part of the project structure until later in the planning process. At this point, you are trying to organize potential sub-projects along with any regularly-scheduled activities that were already in the background, such as Preventive Maintenance, into a loose master plan.

Step 4: Make Ballpark Time and Cost Estimates for Sub-Projects

While you really can’t get exact data when initiating shutdown planning, you can often make ballpark guesstimates as to how much time it’ll take to complete each sub-project. If you have rough cost data for these tasks and sub-projects, include them at this stage. This can sometimes be a qualifier as to whether one sub-project makes it to the final list over another.

Image showing time and cost estimates for initiating shutdown planning

Don’t know where to start?

You might be scratching your head thinking, “How the heck would I have rough cost estimates for these things?” Look back at your logs and documentation over the last couple of years. You can usually find some cost and time data for maintenance on a specific piece of equipment, or on a piece of equipment that is just as complex or specialized as the one you’re estimating right now. Don’t worry about getting it exact at this point in the project. But try for realistic numbers.

Start with old numbers

For example, if you replaced your old Avery labeler three years ago, do you still have any of the logs from four years ago? You may find that it took 4 days and cost you $2800 the last time you performed maintenance on the old labeler. You can assume the new labeler is going to be in better shape, but it doesn’t hurt to start with your old numbers for your rough estimate. It’s always easier to lower the cost than to raise it, once the project gets started.

Step 5: Write the Project Overview Statement (Charter)

This is the statement or memo that defines the prospective projects of your shutdown, viewed from about 5,000 feet. It is meant to be a “high-level” proposal, but with added deliverables.  As you can see, it is not detailed. It is more like a “letter of intent” on the way to the full contract, which will be the Shutdown Plan. The Project Overview Statement or Charter, roughly defines:

  • the scope of what your team proposes to accomplish during your shutdown
  • the deliverables your team commits to
  • the company, environmental, and corporate constraints that impact or may impact the shutdown—in other words, assumptions

Image of the project overview statement for the shutdown planning meetintg

The data that you have established up to this point is the qualifying substance behind the letter of intent. This is the data you will use to justify your proposal in the planning meeting.

Step 6: Schedule a Planning Meeting to Get Approval for Initiating Shutdown Planning

This is the meeting, with the sign-off stakeholders, where you’ll find out if your initial shutdown project is accepted or rejected. Expect some intense discussions to happen at this meeting.

Show your work

Remember your math classes in school? It’s OK, I’m not going to make you do any math, not yet anyway. Remember how the teacher always asked you to show your work? That was good advice then, and it’s good advice now. You won’t have to show all of your calculations, but be prepared to explain how you arrived at your data and your estimates:

  • What documents did you use in your research?
  • Who did you talk to?
  • How did you arrive at certain assumptions?

Other people may not always agree with your conclusions or your findings, but if you did your homework and can explain your reasons, you will find these meetings often go much more smoothly.

Scheduling the Initiating Shutdown Planning Meeting
Also, if you have met with as many of the stakeholders as possible, individually, by the time you get to this meeting, you’ll already understand most of the potential objections and questions that will come up. You should have solid answers for these potential objections and questions. Like I said, others may disagree with you, and that’s OK. They may give you valuable information, show you a point-of-view you hadn’t considered, and uncover gaps in your initial estimates. But even with disagreement, if you show that you’ve done the work to prepare for the planning process, you’ll cross the first hurdle: gaining the confidence of the stakeholders.

To read more in this series, check out my next post, on Building the Plant Maintenance Shutdown Plan. In that post, I go into the actual elements you’ll need to include in your physical project plan.

Very important reminder

Make sure you communicate right up front, and confirm that your stakeholders understand, that this data is not the final plan and that aspects of the scope, time, and cost estimates will change. Those will be fleshed out during the final planning stage. This is just the gateway to that planning stage. If you really get jazzed about project planning and management, you should check out the Project Management Institute. But getting a formal level of planning education can take months, even years, so, if you need to get something done now, sign up on our mailing list to find out when we post new articles.

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Reprinted with permission of the author.